Housel and hyhtplega: The Play of the Eucharist in the Exeter Book

Abstract

This article examines the productive difficulties with which the Exeter Book riddles generate a state of mind appropriate for theological meditation, by considering the reversed violence of Eucharistic remembering and the ludic pleasures of the enigmatic text. I examine closely Riddle 85, which has been unanimously solved as ‘fish and river’ on account of its clear debt to the twelfth Aenigma of Symphosius, and, having acknowledged the attractiveness and the limitations of the one other commonly suggested solution, ‘soul and body’, propose a new solution, ‘the housel inside the body’. This proposed solution shares with ‘soul and body’ the meditation upon the material encountering the immaterial, but it better accounts for the seeming interchangeability of the two parts of this riddle’s solution, by considering the mutual inhering of Christ and communicant in the Eucharist. I read Riddle 85 in the context of Ælfric’s writing on the Eucharist, and also consider the hyhtplega, or joyful play, by which Christ leaps in Christ II, and by which the would-be riddle-solver must contemplate simultaneously a multiplicity of solutions.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    I use Craig Williamson’s edition of the riddles, but Krapp and Dobbie’s numbering system.

  2. 2.

    Translations are mine unless otherwise specified.

  3. 3.

    The pronoun “him” can be neuter as well as masculine, but the “he” of lines 3, 4 and 5 indicates a masculine noun.

References

  1. Bitterli, D. (2009). Say what I am called: The Old English riddles of the Exeter Book and the Anglo-Latin riddle tradition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bredehoft, T. A. (2005). Early English metre. University of Toronto Press.

  3. Grosz, O. J. H. (1970). Man’s imitation of the Ascension: The unity of Christ II. Neophilologus,54(1), 398–408.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Hayes, M. (2008). The talking dead: Resounding voices in Old English riddles. Exemplaria,20(2), 123–142.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Hill, T. D. (1994). The anchor of hope and the sea of this world: Christ II, 850–66. English Studies, 75(4), 289–292.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Ker, W. P. (1911). The dark ages. New York: Charles Scribner’s.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Klein, T. (2014). Of water and the spirit: Metaphorical focus in Exeter Book riddle 74. The Review of English Studies,66(273), 1–19.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Murphy, P. J. (2011). Unriddling the Exeter riddles. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Niles, J. D. (2006). Old English enigmatic poems and the play of the texts. Studies in the early Middle Ages. Turnhout: Brepols.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Rudolf, W. (2012). Riddling and reading: Iconicity and logogriphs in Exeter Book riddles 23 and 45. Anglia-Zeitschrift für englische Philologie,130(4), 499–525.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Sinanoglou, L. (1973). The Christ child as sacrifice: A medieval tradition and the Corpus Christi plays. Speculum,48(3), 491–509.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Symons, V. (2016). Doing things with words: Language and perception in Old English riddles and charms. In S. Thomson & M. Bintley (Eds.), Sensory perception in the medieval west (pp. 123–140). Turnhout: Brepols.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Thorpe, B. (Ed.). (1846). The homilies of the Anglo-Saxon church: The first part containing the Sermones Catholici, or homilies of Ælfric in the original Anglo-Saxon, with an English version (Vol. 1). London: Ælfric Society.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Williamson, C. (Ed.). (2017). The Old English riddles of the ‘Exeter Book’. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lucy Harlow.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Harlow, L. Housel and hyhtplega: The Play of the Eucharist in the Exeter Book. Neophilologus 104, 119–129 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11061-019-09612-x

Download citation

Keywords

  • Old English
  • Anglo-Saxon
  • Riddles
  • Poetry
  • Exeter Book
  • Eucharist
  • Riddle 85